Wildlife on parade

We just finished eating our way through THANKSGIVING DAY festivities with family and friends.  It was a good time had by all as memories were shared, little children played under table top “tents”, and older folks said things such as “I ate too much (fill in the blank)”.  We are lucky indeed in America to have a bounty of food to share.  And we also remember the humble beginnings of pilgrims new to the eastern shore of N. America that were barely surviving in a new land.  A lot has changed since the late 1700s. Nobody wants to return to those good old days that were not so great at all. But they did persist, prosper over time, and look where we are today. The contrast is enormous. Be thankful for that.

Wild turkeys are not just big chickens.  In fact more than 45 million years of evolution separate chickens from turkeys. They thrive today in ways never thought possible a few decades ago. But thanks to innovative wildlife transplanting/live trapping/relocation efforts, the wild turkey is now very abundant. It is estimated its total North American population exceeds 7 million birds. That is up from the early 1900s timeframe when the species was almost extinct.

There are six sub-species of wild turkeys and all are native to North America. They go by these names that somewhat reflect special habitats where they live. Included are our local Eastern Wild Turkey. Others are the Rio Grande, Ocellated, Merriam’s, Osceola, and Gould’s. There are subtle plumage differences between the sub-species.  Male’s are called gobblers or Toms, females are hens and young are called poults.

Spring time mating rituals and displays by Toms show a big fan tail and puffed out body plumage. Hens take notice and when ready, will mate.  She selects a nest site well hidden from the eyes and predators on the ground (fox, coyote, bobcat) or in the air hawks or eagles. Her  feather patterns and dark coloration allow a hen to be completely camouflaged if she is heavy cover type vegetation.  After a nest is made and the young hatch, the poults are precocial, which means they are born with feathers and can fend for themselves quickly. They leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching. They can fly at six weeks of age.

Vision of wild turkeys is excellent with the ability to see 270 degrees around them. They have at least three times better vision than people and have excellent color vision capabilities. Running on the ground is one tactic to escape, at speeds of up to 25 mph. Flying is an always available option. Turkeys fly into tall trees to roost for the night, a tactic that removes them from ground predators. Turkey hearing is also superb with the ability to discern faint bird-to-bird clicks, purrs, and putts.

Wild turkeys are one example of a wildlife management success story. In part one of the key private organizations assisting state wildlife agencies was and still is the National Wild Turkey Federation.  Members who joined have contributed lots of funds to assist with habitat acquisition and transplanting operations.The NWTF was founded in 1973.  Memberships have grown to all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and 14 foreign countries. Their legacy is to Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt.  It works well. To learn more, go to this website: www.nwtf.org.

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FALL FISHING is not the time to put the tackle away. There still are spots holding fish that need to eat before the water gets much colder.  It may take a bit more finesse to put the proper bait/lure in the right spot. But the rewards are the thrills of line buzzing off the reel, bent over backward poles and a big fish taken from the water.  Cooler weather is taking water temperatures down slowly.  But on a day when the sun shines. look for shallow areas where all the weedy summer water plants are now gone. Hiding near sunken logs, rocks or depressions in the lake bottom are fish that need to eat.

Brushy Creek anglers are finding good clear water and bluegills in 10 to 15 feet of water while using small jigs tipped with bait. Largemouth Bass at Brushy may still be responding to spinner baits.  Walleye in the Iowa River locally if one can put a likebait into a deep hole near where tributary creeks join the river.  Hickory Grove Lake near Colo is still producing some crappies hitting twister tails or drifted live minnows.  Begin a fishing foray near Snow Bunting Lodge and travel slowly toward Oriole Ridge Lodge.  Don’t forget Lake Red Rock for crappies.  Go to small bays out of the wind.  Troll slowly with jigs with twisters or tipped with minnows.  One can try vertical jigging near docks and wave breakers in marina cove.

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DEER SHOTGUN season number one begins Dec. 3, next weekend, and runs through the 7th. First shotgun hunters across Iowa will number about 70,000. Second shotgun season is Dec. 10-18 and approximately 50,000 hunters chose this option. To avoid a line at the purchase counter of a retail store selling deer tags, get the task accomplished as early as possible.

Hunting regulations for shotgun deer hunters are well spelled out in the DNR booklet pages 21-24. No changes are in effect for 2016 from past years. AS always, deer killed must have the harvest report completed by midnight of the next day.  This can be done on-line at www.iowadnr.gov or by calling 800-771-4692, or return to the license vendor that sold you the tag and they can assist you with this important task.

Chronic Wasting Disease samples will be gathered again from all over the state, with special emphasis on northeast Iowa’s Allamakee County where a CWD positive deer was found in 2013. Southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin have also found a few positive CWD deer. This disease is always fatal to the deer over time. There is no cure known at this time. Iowa biologists hope to obtain over 4,500 samples from deer taken in 2016-17. Since 2002, Iowa has tested more than 55,000 deer for CWD.

And again this year, Iowa’s successful HUSH program (Help Us Stop Hunger) is in effect. Deer donated by hunters is processed by lockers all over Iowa. The venison is ground and packaged into two pound packages for distribution to The Food Bank. Last year hunters kept the deer they needed for their own freezer and future family meals. Donations to HUSH numbered 66,300 in 2015-16.

As always, questions asked before the hunt by contact with a game warden can clarify any misinformation. Tyson Brown is the Marshall and Grundy County State Conservation Officer.  His cell number is 641-751-5246.

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WATERFOWL HUNTERS are encouraged to participate by offering input into migratory game bird seasons. Iowa DNR biologists want to know, and hear from these folks what they liked or did not like regarding 2016 migratory game bird seasons.  It is the first step in developing the proposed 2017 seasons and dates.  Comments can be sent to Orrin Jones, state waterfowl biologist at Orrin.Jones@dnr.iowa.gov by Dec. 1. That is a short four days from now. So your part and offer constructive comments as soon as possible.

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Lesson learned from my father: 1, Being smart and being quiet are often the same thing. 2, Ordering pizza delivered is just as good as cooking. 3, Naps can happen almost anywhere. 4, Responsibility is something you have to earn.  And 5, Your most important sense is your sense of humor.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.